Against Gnosticism

Some warm-up reading: Isaiah 6:9-10, Ezekiel 12:2, Luke 10:21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16… Isaiah 35:4-5.

This (longish) study is split up into different parts in this thread:
Part 1 – intro., excerpts from extra-biblical sources.
Part 2 – excerpts from introductions of relevant books of Bible.
Part 3 – relevant passages from the Bible, and excerpts from study notes.

Part 1

The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, Encyclopedic Edition, Volume 1, published by Lexicon Publications, Inc., in 1995, defines Gnosticism on page 408 as “a trend of religious thought with Far Eastern origins which flourished in the Hellenistic Near East. There were numerous Gnostic sects, both pagan and Christian. The Christian Gnostics denied the literal meaning of Scriptures and saw only an esoteric meaning [defined as ‘(of religious, mystical or philosophical teaching or practice) with a meaning that is understood only by those who have received the necessary instruction or training,’ (ibid, p. 322)] based on gnosis [defined as ‘a divinely inspired knowledge,’ (ibid, p. 408)], e.g. they did not believe that a real Jesus was really crucified.”

In the Universal Subject Guide to the Bible, found near the back of The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, published by Thomas Nelson in 1990, Gnosticism is defined as an “early heresy based on knowledge instead of faith.” On that note, please see my faith thread. The faith thread discusses whether we are saved by faith or works (also touching on the issue of blind faith), and this present Gnosticism thread could be thought of as an off-shoot from the faith thread, branching into a discussion of whether we are saved by faith or knowledge (of the “gnosis” variety). According to the aforementioned subject guide, Gnosticism is “warned against (Col 2:8, 18), arrogant (1 Cor 8:1), false (1 Tim 6:20) and surpassed by Christ (Eph 3:19).”

From the “Answering Mysticism” section, page 650 of “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell:
Robert S. Ellwood, Jr. warns:

“We must receive with considerable caution the common ideas that if religion became more mystical and less dogmatic it would be better, and that mysticism is the true spiritual core of all religion. While a valid case can be argued for some of the assumptions underlying these propositions, they are highly ambiguous unless we take setting into account. Depending upon setting, what people regard as mystical experience can as well release the demons of war and hate in the name of a spiritual cause. For the self-validating nature of mysticism is a two-edged sword: it might enable the wondrous experience of transcendence, yet validate the separation of its associations from the control of reason. Therein comes the dark side of mysticism. Those who release self-validating experiences from the supervision of reason and social control neglect these controls to the peril of all. The danger may, strictly speaking, lie not in the flash of ecstasy but in the feelings and symbols associated with it. In practice, however, often little separation of the two occurs. The self-validating experience easily becomes the false romanticism of exalting feelings as cognitive and guides to action over reason or tradition. One then is likely to evoke the mood of the Nazi madness or of solipsist fanaticism of Charles Manson.” (Ellwood, Mysticism and Religion, 186)

I insert that quote because the exclusive nature of Gnosticism and its “secret knowledge” seems to warrant it here.

Part 2

All “introduction” quotes below are from the Zondervan NASB Study Bible.

The section titled The Colossian Heresy in the introduction to Colossians:

Paul never explicitly describes the false teaching he opposes in the Colossian letter. The nature of the heresy must be inferred from statements he made in opposition to the false teachers. An analysis of his refutation suggests that the heresy was diverse in nature. Some of the elements of its teaching were:
1. Ceremonialism. It held to strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and rink, religious festivals (2:16-17) and circumcision (2:11; 3:11).
2. Asceticism. “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (2:21; cf. 2:23).
3. Angel worship. See 2:18.
4. Depreciation of Christ. This is implied in Paul’s stress on the supremacy of Christ (1:15-20; 2:2-3, 9).
5. Secret knowledge. The Gnostics boasted of this (see 2:18 and Paul’s emphasis in 2:2-3 on Christ, “in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom”).
6. Reliance on human wisdom and tradition. See 2:4,8.

These elements seem to fall into two categories, Jewish and Gnostic. It is likely, therefore, that the Colossian heresy was a mixture of an extreme form of Judaism and an early stage of Gnosticism (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism; see also note on 2:23).

From the Background and Purpose section of 1 Timothy’s introduction:

A major problem in the Ephesian church was a heresy that combined Gnosticism (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism), decadent Judaism (1:3-7) and false asceticism (4:1-5).

From the Date section of 2 Peter’s introduction:

The error combated is comparable to the kind of heresy present in the first century. To insist that the second chapter was directed against second-century Gnosticism is to assume more than the contents of the chapter warrant. While the heretics referred to in 2 Peter may well have been among the forerunners of second-century Gnostics, nothing is said of them that would not fit into the later years of Peter’s life.

The section devoted to Gnosticism in 1 John’s introduction:

Gnosticism
One of the most dangerous heresies of the first two centuries of the church was Gnosticism. Its central teaching was that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. From this unbiblical dualism flowed five important errors:
1. Man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil. It is to be contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit and therefore good.
2. Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, hence Gnosticism).
3. Christ’s true humanity was denied in two ways: (1) Some said that Christ only seemed to have a body, a view called Docetism, from the Greek word dokeo (“to seem”), and (2) others said that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died, a view called Cerinthianism, after its most prominent spokesman, Cerinthus. This view is the background of much of 1 John (see 1:1, 2:22; 4:2-3).
4. Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly. This ascetic form of Gnosticism is the background of part of the letter to the Colossians (2:21-23).
5. Paradoxically, this dualism also led to licentiousness. The reasoning was that, since matter—and not the breaking of God’s law (1 John 3:4)—was considered evil, breaking his law was of no moral consequence.

The Gnosticism addressed in the NT was an early form of the heresy, not the intricately developed system of the second and third centuries. In addition to that seen in Colossians and in John’s letters, acquaintance with early Gnosticism is reflected in 1,2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter and perhaps 1 Corinthians.

From the Occasion and Purpose section in 2 John’s introduction:

During the first two centuries the gospel was taken from place to place by traveling evangelists and teachers. Believers customarily took these missionaries into their homes and gave them provisions for their journey when they left. Since Gnostic teachers also relied on this practice (see not on 3 John 5), 2 John was written to urge discernment in supporting traveling teachers; otherwise, someone might unintentionally contribute to the propagation of heresy rather than truth.

From the Occasion and Purpose section in 3 John’s introduction:

See Introduction to 2 John: Occasion and Purpose. Itinerant teachers sent out by John were rejected in one of the churches in the province of Asia by a dictatorial leader, Diotrephes, who even excommunicated members who showed hospitality to John’s messengers. John wrote this letter to commend Gaius for supporting the teachers and, indirectly, to warn Diotrephes.

From the Date, Recipients and Occasion and Purpose sections in Jude’s introduction:

Date
There is nothing in the letter that requires a date beyond the lifetime of Jude the brother of the Lord. The error the author is combating, like that in 2 Peter, is not the heretical teaching of the second century, but that which could and did develop at an early date (cf. Acts 20:29-30; Rom 6:1; 1 Cor 5:1-11; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:13; Eph 5:3-17; 1 Thess 4:6).

Recipients
The description of those to whom Jude addressed his letter is very general (v. 1). It could apply to Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, or both. Their location is not indicated. It should not be assumed that, since 2 Pet 2 and Jude 4-18 appear to describe similar situations, they were both written to the same people. The kind of heresy depicted in these two passages was widespread (see Date).

Occasion and Purpose
Although Jude was very eager to write to his readers about salvation, he felt that he must instead warn them about certain immoral men circulating among them who were perverting the grace of God (v. 4). Apparently these false teachers were trying to convince believers that being saved by grace gave them license to sin since their sins would no longer be held against them. Jude thought it imperative that his readers be on guard against such men and be prepared to oppose their perverted teaching with the truth about God’s saving grace.

It has generally been assumed that these false teachers were Gnostics. Although this identification is no doubt correct, they must have been forerunners of fully developed, second-century Gnosticism (see Introduction to 2 Peter: Date).

Part 3

Now to explore a bold sampling of these indexed verses compiled from the above-mentioned subject guide (see original post), and from the Index to Notes found near the back of Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible (1999), as well as from verses mentioned in the introductions quoted above (from the same bible) (see second post of this thread): Acts 20:29-30; Rom 6:1; 1 Cor 4:2-7; 5:1-11; 8:1-3; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:13; Eph 3:19; 5:3-17; Col 1:19, 28; 2 (entire chapter); 1 Thess 4:3-8; 1 Tim 1:3-11; 4:1-5; 6:20; 2 Tim 2:14-18; 2 Pet 2:12; 1 John 1:1, 10; 2:3, 18, 21-23, 27; 3:4; 4:1-3; 5:6, 16; 2 John 1:7-11; 3 John 1:5; Jude 1:4-19; Rev 2:24.

Note that every time you read the word “mystery” or “mysteries” in any of the above (and below) verses, you can probably find it covered in my “Mystery in the Bible” thread – linked to at the beginning of this thread.

All bible verses and study notes are quoted from Zondervan’s NASB (New American Standard Bible) Study Bible (1999):

1 Corinthians 8:1-3: “1 … we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.”

NASB note v. 1: Knowledge makes arrogant. It fills one with false pride. love edifies. Explained in vv.7-13. The Christian should love his brother who doubts.
NASB note v. 2: has not yet known. The wisest and most knowledgeable Christian realizes that his knowledge is limited. God is the only one who knows all (cf. Rom 11:33-36).

Ephesians 3:19: “…to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Nothing directly addressing Gnosticism yet… those were just warm-up passages…

Colossians 1:19, 28: “19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

NASB note v. 19: fullness. Part of the technical vocabulary of some Gnostic philosophies. In these systems it meant the sum of the supernatural forces controlling the fate of people. For Paul “fullness” meant the totality of God with all His powers and attributes (2:9).
NASB note v. 28: complete. Employed by the mystery religions and the Gnostics to describe those who had become possessors of the secrets or knowledge boasted of by the particular religion (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism). But in Christ every believer is one of the perfect.

From the Colossians section, page 725 of Zondervan’s Handbook to the Bible, 1999 (Pat and David Alexander, authors):
“1:24-2:5 Paul’s own task
The apostle’s job is to make God’s message known. The philosophers hint at secrets, at deep things known only to the initiated. This is God’s open secret: ‘Christ—in you!’ A share in God’s own glory for every Christian ! This is a ‘secret’ worth knowing. It makes all Paul’s struggle and effort ‘to preach Christ to everyone’ worthwhile.”

Colossians 2:1-23 (read it).

NASB note v. 3: knowledge[/b]. Paul stressed knowledge in this letter (v. 2; 1:9-10) because he was refuting a heresy that emphasized knowledge as the means of salvation (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism). Paul insisted that the Christian, not the Gnostic, possessed genuine knowledge.
NASB note v. 8: [i]elementary principles of the world. This term (which occurs also in v. 20 and Gal 4:3,9) means false, worldly, religious, elementary teachings. Paul was counteracting the Colossian heresy, which, in part, taught that for salvation one needed to combine faith in Christ with secret knowledge and with man-made regulations concerning such physical and external practices as circumcision, eating and drinking, and observance of religious festivals.
NASB note v. 9: fullness of Deity. See note on 1:19. The declaration that the very essence of deity was present in totality in Jesus’ human body was a direct refutation of Gnostic teaching.
NASB note vv. 10-15: Here Paul declares that the Christian is complete in Christ, rather than being deficient as the Gnostics claimed. This completeness includes the putting off of the sinful nature (v.11), resurrection from spiritual death (vv.12-13), forgiveness (v.13) and deliverance from legalistic requirements (v. 14) and from evil spirit beings (v. 15).
NASB note v. 15: When He had disarmed. Not only did God cancel out the accusations of the law against the Christian, but He also conquered and disarmed the evil agents (powers and authorities, 1:16; Eph 6:12), who entice people to follow asceticism and false teachings about Christ. The picture is of conquered soldiers stripped of their clothes as well as their weapons to symbolize their total defeat.
NASB note v. 17: shadow…substance. The ceremonial laws of the OT are here referred to as shadows (cf. Heb 8:5; 10:1) because they symbolically depicted the coming of Christ; so any insistence on the observance of such ceremonies is a failure to recognize that their fulfillment has already taken place. This element of the Colossian heresy was combined with a rigid asceticism, as vv. 20-21 reveal.
NASB note v. 18: defrauding. This term pictures an umpire or referee who excludes from competition any athlete who fails to follow the rules. The Colossians were not to permit any false teacher to deny the reality of their salvation because they were not delighting in mock humility and in the worship of angelic beings. self-abasement. Humility in which one delights is of necessity mock humility. Paul may refer to a professed humility in view of the absolute God, who was believed to be so far above man that He could only be worshiped in the form of angels He had created. Second-century Gnosticism conceived of a list of spirit beings who had emanated from God and through whom God may be approached. he has seen. Probably refers to professed visions by the false teachers.
NASB note v. 19: not holding fast to the head. The central error of the Colossian heresy is a defective view of Christ, in which He is believed to be less than deity (see v. 9; 1:19).
NASB note v. 20: elementary principles. See note on v. 8.
NASB note v. 21: Do not handle…taste…touch! The strict ascetic nature of the heresy is seen here. These prohibitions seem to carry OT ceremonial laws to the extreme.
NASB note v. 23: A rather detailed analysis of the Colossian heresy: 1. It appeared to set forth an impressive system of religious philosophy. 2. It was, however, a system created by the false teachers themselves (“self-made”), rather than being of divine origin. 3. The false teachers attempted to parade their humility. 4. This may have been done by a harsh asceticism that brutally misused the body. Paul’s analysis is that such practices are worthless because they totally fail to control sinful desires. self-made religion. The false teachers themselves had created the regulations of their heretical system. They were not from God.

1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:1-5; 6:20 (read it).

NASB note 1:3-11: In this section, along with 4:1-8; 6:3-5, 20-21, Paul warns against heretical teachers in the Ephesian church. They are characterized by (1) teaching false doctrines (1:3; 6:3); (2) teaching Jewish myths (Titus 1:14); (3) wanting to be teachers of the OT law (1:7); (4) building up endless, far-fetched, fictitious stories based on obscure genealogical points (1:4; 4:7; Titus 3:9); (5) being conceited (1:7; 6:4); (6) being argumentative (1:4; 6:4; 2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9); (7) using talk that was meaningless (1:6) and foolish (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9); (8) not knowing what they were talking about (1:7; 6:4); (9) teaching ascetic practices (4:3); and (10) using their positions of religious leadership for personal financial gain (6:5). These heretics probably were the forerunners of the Gnostics (6:20-21); see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism).
NASB note 1:4 myths and endless genealogies. Probably mythical stories built on OT history (genealogies) that later developed into intricate Gnostic philosophical systems (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism).
NASB note 4:1 in later times. The time beginning with the first coming of Christ (see note on Heb 1:1). That Paul is not referring only to the time immediately prior to Christ’s second coming is obvious from his assumption in v. 7 that the false teachings were already present at the time of his writing.
NASB note on 4:3 This unbiblical asceticism arose out of the mistaken belief that the material world was evil—a central belief of the Gnostic heresy (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism).
NASB note on 6:20 what is falsely called “knowledge.” A reference to an early form of the heresy of Gnosticism, which taught that one may be saved by knowledge. (The term “Gnosticism” comes from the Greek word for knowledge; see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism.)

2 Timothy 2:14-18 “14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”

NASB note vv. 14-18: The wording of vv. 14-16 indicates that the heresy mentioned here is an early form of Gnosticism—the same as that dealt with in 1 Timothy and Titus (see note on 1 Tim 1:3-11 and Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism). Two leaders of this heresy, Hymenaeus (see 1 Tim 1:20) and Philetus, denied the bodily resurrection and probably asserted that there is only a spiritual resurrection (similar to the error mentioned in 1 Cor 15:12-19). Gnosticism interpreted the resurrection allegorically, not literally.

2 Peter 2:12 “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed,”

NASB note v. 12: like unreasoning animals. A scathing denunciation. They are like irrational animals, whose lives are guided by mere instinct and who are born merely to be slaughtered. Destruction is their final lot. where they have no knowledge. The heresy to which Peter refers may have been an early form of second-century Gnosticism (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism) that claimed to possess special, esoteric knowledge. If so, it is ironic that those who professed special knowledge acted out of abysmal ignorance, and the result was arrogant blasphemy. Ichthus: read whole chapter.

1 John 1:1, 10; 2:3, 18, 21-23, 27; 4:1-3; 5:6, 16: “1:1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–, 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 2:3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 5:6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.”

NASB note 1:1 heard…seen…looked at…touched. The apostle had made a careful examination of the Word of Life. He testifies that the one who has existed from eternity “became flesh” (John 1:14)—i.e., a flesh-and-blood man. He was true God and true man. At the outset, John contradicts the heresy of the Gnostics (see Introduction: Gnosticism).
NASB note 1:10 we have not sinned. Gnostics denied that their immoral actions were sinful.
NASB note 2:3 Forty-two times 1 John uses two Greek verbs normally translated “know.” One of these verbs is related to the name of the Gnostics, the heretical sect that claimed to have a special knowledge (Greek gnosis of God (see Introduction: Gnosticism).
NASB note 2:18 antichrist…many antichrists. John assumed his readers knew that a great enemy of God and His people will arise before Christ’s return. That person is called “antichrist” (v. 18), “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess 2:3; but see note there) and “the beast” (Rev 13:1-10). But prior to him, there will be many antichrists. These are characterized by the following: (1) They deny the incarnation (4:2; 2 John 1:7) and that Jesus is the divine Christ (v.22); (2) they deny the Father (v.22); (3) they do not have the Father (v.23); (4) they are liars (v.22) and deceivers (2 John 1:7); (5) they are many (v.18); (6) in John’s day they left the church because they had nothing in common with believers (v.19). The antichrists referred to in John’s letter were the early Gnostics. The “anti” in antichrist means “against” (cf. 2 Thess 2:4; Rev 13:6-7).
NASB note 2:22 Jesus is the Christ. The man Jesus is the divine Christ (see the parallel confession in 5:5; see also Introduction: Gnosticism and not on 5:6).
NASB note 2:23 See 2 John 1:9 for the same thought.
NASB note 2:26 One of the statements of purpose for the letter (see Introduction: Occasion and Purpose).
NASB note 2:27 have no need for anyone to teach you. Since the Bible constantly advocates teaching (Matt 28:20; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Col 3:16; 1 Tim 4:11; 2 Tim 2:2,24), John is not ruling out human teachers. At the time when he wrote, however, Gnostic teachers were insisting that the teaching of the apostles was to be supplemented with the “higher knowledge” that they (the Gnostics) claimed to possess. John’s response was that what the readers were taught under the Spirit’s ministry through the apostles not only was adequate but was the only reliable truth. teaches you. The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (what is commonly called illumination) does not involve revelation of new truth or the explanation of all difficult passages of Scripture to our satisfaction. Rather, it is the development of the capacity to appreciate and appropriate God’s truth already revealed—making the Bible meaningful in thought and daily living. all things. All things necessary to know for salvation and Christian living.
NASB note 4:1 spirit. A person moved by a spirit, whether by the Holy Spirit or an evil one. test the spirits. Cf. 1 Thess 5:21. (Matt 7:1 does not refer to such testing or judgment; it speaks of self-righteous moral judgment of others.) false prophets. A true prophet speaks from God, being “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). False prophets, such as the Gnostics of John’s day, speak under the influence of spirits alienated from God. Christ warned against false prophets (Matt 7:15; 24:11), as did Paul (1 Tim 4:1) and Peter (2 Pet 2:1).
NASB note 4:2 confesses. Not only knows intellectually—for demons know, and shudder (James 2:19; cf. Mark 1:24)—but also confesses publicly. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. See note on 1:1. Thus John excludes the Gnostics, especially the Cerinthians, who taught that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at his baptism and then left him at the cross, so that it was only the man Jesus who died (see Introduction: Gnosticism).
NASB note 5:6 Water symbolizes Jesus’ baptism, and blood symbolizes His death. These are mentioned because Jesus’ ministry began at His baptism and ended at His death. John is reacting to the heretics of his day (see Introduction: Gnosticism) who said that Jesus was born only a man and remained so until His baptism. At that time, they maintained, the Christ (the Son of God) descended on the human Jesus, but left him before his suffering on the cross—so that it was only the man Jesus who died. Throughout this letter John has been insisting that Jesus Christ is God as well as man (1:1-4; 4:2; 5:5). He now asserts that it was this God-man, Jesus Christ who came into our world, was baptized and died. Jesus was the Son of God not only at His baptism but also at His death (v.6b). This truth is extremely important, because, if Jesus died only as a man, His sacrificial atonement (2:2; 4:10) would not have been sufficient to take away the guilt of man’s sin.
NASB note 5:16 Verses 16-17 illustrate the kind of petition we can be sure God will answer (see vv.14-15). sin leading to death. In the context of this letter directed against Gnostic teaching, which denied the incarnation and threw off all moral restraints, it is probably that the “sin leading to death” refers to the Gnostics’ adamant and persistent denial of the truth and to their shameless immorality. This kind of unrepentant sin leads to spiritual death. Another view is that this is sin that results in physical death. It is held that, because a believer continues in sin, God in judgment takes his life (cf. 1 Cor 11:30). In either case, “sin not leading to death” is of a less serious nature.

2 John 1:7-11: “7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”

NASB note vv.7-11: This section deals with the basic Gnostic heresy attacked in 1 John, namely, that the Son of God did not become flesh (John 1:14), but that He temporarily came upon the man Jesus between his baptism and his crucifixion (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism).
NASB note v.7: Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. See 1 John 4:2-3 and note. antichrist. See note on 1 John 2:18.
NASB note v.9: goes too far. A reference to the Gnostics, who believed that they had advanced beyond the teaching of the apostles. teaching of Christ. The similarity of this letter to 1 John, the nature of the heresy combated, and the immediate context suggest that John is not referring to teaching given by Christ, but to the true teaching about Christ as the incarnate God-man.
NASB note v.10: receive him into your house. A reference to the housing and feeding of traveling teachers (see Introduction: Occasion and Purpose). The instruction does not prohibit greeting or even inviting a person into one’s home for conversation. John was warning against providing food and shelter, since this would be an investment in the “evil deeds” of false teachers and would give public approval (see v.11).

Jude v.19 “These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

NASB note v. 19: the ones who cause divisions. At the very least this phrase means that they were divisive, creating factions in the church—the usual practice of heretics. Or Jude may refer to the later Gnostics’ division of men into the spiritual (the Gnostics) and the sensual (those for whom there is no hope). worldly-minded. An ironic description of false teachers, who labeled others as “sensual.” devoid of Spirit. Rather than being the spiritual ones—the privileged elite class the Gnostics claimed to be—Jude denies that they even possess the Spirit. A person who does not have the Spirit is clearly not saved (see Rom 8:9).

Rev 2:24 “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.”

NASB note v. 24: deep things of Satan. Later Gnosticism (see Introduction to 1 John: Gnosticism) taught that in order to defeat Satan one had to enter his stronghold, i.e., experience evil deeply.

Personal note: This last one reminds me of Nietzsche more than anything (I won’t quote him). What a fool. And what a fool I was, before I was saved. If God could save a fool like me, He can save anyone.

This concludes a review of the Biblical view of Gnosticism (and the extent of my awareness of it).

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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One Response to Against Gnosticism

  1. Ichthus says:

    If “dismissing as false, as missing the point” is “bashing” – fine, I did that (to early Gnosticism). It’s no different than Galileo showing the earth revolves around the sun rather than being at the center. Hard for the church leadership to swallow, but they got past it. Would you have preferred they remain ignorant of the truth? The Truth of Jesus’ relationship to us is much more important, much more relevant, than the Earth’s relationship to the physical universe (though such things are indeed fascinating).Referring to the Nicene Creed – Only Arius (who continued to teach his view, despite the creed) and two of his companions refused to sign it. On one side of the coin, if Jesus wasn’t God, the “penalty paid by God” aspect of His sacrifice meant nothing. On the other side of the same coin, if Jesus wasn’t human, the “penalty of our sins, paid on our behalf” aspect of His sacrifice meant nothing. Heresies which follow Jesus while trying to deny Jesus’ deity or humanity are man-made, not from God, not Truth, and fail to account for why Jesus did what He did and what exactly it meant – so why follow aimlessly in their direction? Christian Gnostics have a weird belief that Jesus was God, but that He only had the appearance of flesh… His humanity was not real (see Acts of John 93, Apocalypse of Peter 81:4-24, Second Treatise of the Great Seth 56:6-19), because their concept of God, also strange, has no dealings in the material world (see Hypostasis of the Archons 86:20-88:15, Apocryphon of John 2:9-25). This is why I mentioned Arius – because he makes a related mistake.That Gnostics see Truth as unable to be put in words is convenient for them. No one can challenge them. I have been where words lose meaning and relationships between things disappear. This is not a good place, not even a real place. It is a figment of the imagination and completely pointless. It is dissecting concepts (relationships) into oblivion. The only purpose of dissection is to analyze if the concept is poorly conceived (and if so, to rearrange it into something more truly representative) – when you end up with no concept whatever – you’ve missed the point (what “transcend” in the mystical sense really means in my mind – to “go beyond” is to “miss completely”). You cannot love if you exist in the illogical delusion that you are the source of you (honestly — what is the purpose of seeking to attain such a delusion?). We were created in His image – to create with Him – you can’t create squat if you’ve oblivion to work with. The goal is Love. It is Love which makes us One. Love! Not “missing the point”. The point is Love. [ insert the/a Big Bang ]On the authority of the church to define Christianity…If you admit there is truth, and you admit there is an enemy of truth, then you admit there is heresy, which by definition is a divergence from truth (by camouflaging lies behind truth – remember what Jesus said … beware the leaven of the Pharisees). Granted, you maintain the church is not an authority on truth or its enemy, heresy. The Church (body of human Christians) gets its authority from the Word (Christ as the head). If it doesn’t line up with the Word, the Church is wrong – a headless man, as is Gnosticism.The reason the Gnostic gospels did not make it into the canon is because they did not “pass the test of fire” as you would say (not that you came up with it, 1 Pet 1:7)… Most of them were so far out there that they were only circulated among those who did not associate with the church (group of believers, first called Christians, not Gnostics, in Antioch, Acts 11:26), and so never made it to the chopping block, much less past it. Those who insist credibility be given to the Gnostic gospels are like those of the Flat Earth Society, who want us to reject evidence to the contrary. Those who want the Gnostic gospels to be accepted alongside the canonized Gospels are like those who think A can equal not-A. Gnostics claim(ed) that those who did/do not accept the claims of Gnosticism did/do not correctly represent Christ. And orthodox Christians say the same about Gnostics – they do not correctly represent Christ. Syncretism is impossible. A choice must be made – and it has been made – the New Testament.Rather than creating the canon, the council recognized it among available texts, subjecting them to tests for inclusion. This is the same thing any good investigator would do if he wanted to know more about any particular subject, but only wanted the facts – especially if there are competing theories. They asked questions like these: was it written by a prophet, was the message of the author confirmed by miracles, did its message about God contradict how God had communicated Himself thus far, is the message dynamic and transforming, was it accepted by the people of God, and does it have apostolic authority or approval? The reason for collecting the NT books into a canon are many. If they were written by an apostle or prophet, they were valuable and worth preserving. The early church believers cared about truth and wanted to apply it, and wanted to be able to discern authoritative texts from counterfeits. They wanted to counter the heretic Marcion’s canon. A canon is useful in the mission field – one cannot translate a Bible that does not exist. “The edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) called for the destruction of the sacred books of the Christians. Who would die for a book that was perhaps religious, but not sacred? Christians needed to know which books were truly sacred.” – p. 23, “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell. Much of the above info. comes from Geisler and Nix’ “A General Introduction to the Bible” (Moody, 1968).I will leave you with some relevant verses. 2 Corinthians 11:14, Luke 11:33-36, 1 Thess 5:21, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, 12-13; 18:21-22; Luke 8:4-17; Matthew 5:14-15; John 18:20; 1 John 4:1-6. I beg you to take the time to fully digest them into your mind. “Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.” – Luke 11:35.The silly thought occurred to me to build a proof of God’s existence around the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra. But I knew that others might object (wrongly) that such heavenly patterns are proof only to me. That reminded me of gnosis. And special revelation. Special revelation, as opposed to general revelation made to everyone, is made to specific individuals or small groups – kinda like gnosis. So – considering that, and that Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) – how do we know we have the God’s Honest Truth (shall we call it the GHT?) even in the Old Testament? Even in the NT we have revelation made to a few – most of Jesus’ appearances after His death, for example – especially the one to Saul (which temporarily blinded him and converted him… we mostly know him as “Paul”) (note that one of Jesus’ appearances was to many, but anywho). The first answer is that God sends His prophets to counter false prophets — there are many examples of this in the OT – and only the truth (GHT) proclaimed by His prophets make it into His written Word. The same is true in the NT, which repeatedly counters the false prophets of Gnosticism. So, since something like gnosis does happen – special revelation… and visions of God when the prophet is alone… it is not required for salvation (as the false teachers of Gnosticism claim). If you believe – you’re in (but see my faith thread). “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” (Jesus, in Matthew 6:33). There’s just so much heretical baggage that comes with Gnosticism. Who needs it? Nobody.If neopagans say there are no essential “must have” doctrines or practices of Gnosticism – junk it. After all — it is not essential, right? However, Christian Gnostics claim(ed) secret, essential knowledge. They are/were certain God cares what we “know” – and that if we don’t “know” that “secret knowledge” – we are hopelessly lost. Christians (not Gnostics) also believe God cares what we know, but that such “mysteries” are out there for peer review – remaining a “secret” only to those with unreceptive hearts, who do not have eyes to see, ears to hear. You don’t have to go through brainwashing rituals or any other sort of initiation to come to know what God has revealed. All you need to know is that it is God’s loving you (and not just you, but the whole world) no matter what (as Jesus’ prophesied sacrifice shows) that saves you from separation from God. To be smart about Love does not require special knowledge (though it is not Truth) only graspable by the highly intelligent. And just because you are highly intelligent doesn’t mean you have to be dumb about Love. God can help you “get it” if you ask Him. The exclusivity of Gnostic groups attracts a human’s need to feel special and unique, feeding off human pride. Going through initiation rituals (in the case of ‘mystery’ religions) when you don’t even know if the “secret” is – “essential” – is an abandonment of God-given reason (not to mention the origin and nature of the rituals are pagan, rituals which God has rejected… see my thread “Against the gods, goddesses, and syncretism”). Going through rituals to gain membership in an exclusive group puts pressure on your mind to believe something merely because you’ve made such an effort to get your foot in the door of belonging (you of course do not know or care if your mind operates in this way, because you have abandoned reason). Salespersons (the dishonest ones) use it to their profit every day. Just because something is kept from others doesn’t mean it is a good thing. Some have died (Stephen, Acts 7:54-60 – also Jesus’ brother James, and Peter, who was crucified upside down – Paul was tried and executed, and there are and will be many other martyrs), rather than hide from persecution, because they believed: What God reveals – preach from the mountaintops, in the light. Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed. A city on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men… (living words of Jesus… to those who have the true light in them). “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible note on John 18:20 – “nothing in secret. Not a denial that He taught the disciples privately, but a denial that He had secretly taught them subversive teaching different from His public message.”“<>Irenaeus by Ben Merkle<>“Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor around the years A.D.120-130. After studying there under Polycarp, he was sent to the city of Lyons, a leading city in Celtic Gaul, where he became the bishop of Lyons and lived until his death in the first years of the third century. Some speculation has him dying as a martyr under the Emperor Severus in A.D. 202. Although Irenaeus’s name was a derivative of the Greek word for peace, the man was no stranger to controversy. He is still most remembered by church historians for his polemics, such as his confrontation with Victor the Bishop of Rome during the Paschal dispute, and his treatise Against Heresies. “<>Against Heresies<> is the most extensive work of Irenaeus that we have; it is a treatise he wrote to expose most of the popular heresies that endangered the Christian church in the second century. Most of this book, however, takes aim at the teachings that originated with a man named Cerinthus and then grew under many others, like Marcion and Valentinus, to be one part of the Gnostic heresy. “Cerinthus was, according to the apostle John’s definition, antichrist. He denied that Jesus was the Christ. According to him, Jesus was a man, fully man, born of a normal union between Joseph and Mary. At Jesus’ baptism the spirit of Christ descended on Him in the form of a dove and then left Him when He was crucified. Christ’s spirit actually came from the Propater (First Father) who the world had not yet known. It turns out that a number of god-like beings had sprung from this Propater. You might recognize some of their names, Charis (grace), Aletheia (truth), Logos (word), Zoe (life) and many more. This crowd of semi-deities, known as the Aeons, had emanated from the Propater, but were unaware of his existence. They are referred to as the Pleroma (fullness) of the Propater. The world that we live in, and all other material substances, actually came from the Aeon Sophia (wisdom). Then came the Christ, another Aeon, who let the rest of the Aeons and mankind in on the secret of the Propater. This put the total number of Aeons at thirty, which of course was signified by the fact that Christ was thirty years old before he started preaching (Against Heresies, 1.1-2). “Irenaeus was obviously a witty chap and included in his explanation of this heresy is his own attempt at Gnostic exegesis. ‘But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term the Utter-emptiness. This Gourd and emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable and delicious, which fruit language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus’ (1.11:4). “Followers of the Gnostic heresy taught that man was saved by his knowledge (gnosis) of the Gnostic system, which is where the term Gnostic comes in. One could gain this saving kind of knowledge by becoming a disciple, or as Irenaeus best put it, a “cracked-brain follower” of a Gnostic master (1.13:1), who would then enlighten his students for a healthy fee. Irenaeus pointed out how it was difficult to actually list the heresies, because nobody knew what they actually believed. The knowledge differed drastically from master to master. They manipulated their students, trading their supposed saving knowledge for money and sexual perversions. “Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp (the disciple of John), explained that the heresies of Cerinthus were a primary target of John’s Gospel. “John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith, and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men” (3.11:1). A story had been passed on to Irenaeus about how John had entered a bath-house with his disciples, but when seeing that Cerinthus was already inside, ‘rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within”‘ (3.4:4). “John’s testimony against Cerinthus’ doctrines of the Aeons is very evident throughout his gospel. Chapter one begins by declaring that the Word was from the very beginning and was, in fact, God Himself, not an emanation from Him having no clue of the Father’s existence. Cerinthus was always careful to separate the person of Jesus and the person of Christ. John takes aim at this in 1 John 2:22: ‘Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.’ [Ichthus: please note, John, who rejected Cerinthus, endorsed Paul – Acts 15, Galatians 2.]“The early church owed Irenaeus much for the work he did to defend the catholic faith from heresy. Our modern church remains indebted to him. Although many historians discuss him and his significance, Irenaeus himself gives the best preface to his work. ‘I well know, my dear friend, that when thou hast read through all this, thou wilt indulge in a hearty laugh over this their inflated wise folly’ (1:16:3). Or as he more succinctly put it elsewhere, ‘Iu, Iu! Pheu, Pheu!’ (1.11:4).”http://www.credenda.org/issues/10-2patres.php

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